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Toner: Before or After Exfoliating? The REAL Answer!

by Yu-Jun Park 16 Jun 2023

Toner: Before or After Exfoliating? The REAL Answer!

Have you ever found yourself with your toner in one hand, exfoliant in the other, scratching your head in confusion?

Trust us, we’ve all asked ourselves at some point: "Exfoliant or toner first?"

Fear not, skincare voyagers! This guide is about to take you on a journey to skincare enlightenment.

Understanding Your Allies: Toner & Exfoliant

Before diving into the sequencing saga, let's play a quick game of Skincare 101.

We're going to acquaint ourselves with the star players of this tale: toner and exfoliant.

What Does Skin Toner Actually Do, Anyway?

Picture yourself on a romantic candlelit date with your toner. Sweet, right?

Now, imagine it whispering into your ear, "I'll tighten your pores, balance your skin's pH, and keep it refreshingly clean." Ooh la la!

Skin toner, in all its modesty, might seem like an optional step in your skincare routine, but it’s a stealthy workhorse.

Its mission? To gently cleanse the skin, shrink the appearance of pores, and balance your skin's pH levels.

So, yes, that unassuming bottle marked "toner for face" is a jack of all trades.

Spotlight on a Superstar: Toner with Rose Water

You've likely seen the words 'toner with rose water' on your bottle, but what’s the fuss about?

Rose water isn't just a pretty flower extract. It's a skincare superstar!

With its anti-inflammatory properties, it soothes irritation, reduces skin redness and fights off acne. All while giving you a hydration boost and leaving your skin glowing. It's like a rose petal soft kiss for your skin!

Skin Toner: How to Use It

This is where it gets interesting.

The question isn’t just “toner for skin, yes or no?” but “how and when do I use it?"

So, here's how to strike up a love affair with your toner:

  • After cleansing, dab a bit onto a cotton pad.
  • Gently apply it all over your face, avoiding the eye area.
  • Repeat until the pad comes away clean.

Voila, you've just used your toner like a pro!

But hold on.

We hear you ask, "Wait, you said 'after cleansing.' But what about my exfoliant?"

We're getting there, skincare warriors!

Enter the Exfoliant

If the toner is the knight in shining armor, then the exfoliant is the trusty steed.

But what's the role of this skincare champion? It's all about sloughing away dead skin cells to reveal the fresh, glowy ones underneath.

It unclogs pores, promotes cell turnover, and keeps skin looking radiant.

How Do Exfoliants Work?

Pop quiz: What’s the difference between your morning coffee and an exfoliant?

While both are surefire ways to give your day a kickstart, only one is a skincare workhorse that wakes up your complexion by giving dead skin cells the boot. That’s right, we’re talking exfoliants!

Imagine this: your skin is like a constantly-evolving city skyline. As old cells are ready to retire, new ones prepare to rise to the top.

When these old cells linger, they don’t exactly add to the aesthetic appeal.

They're like the outdated buildings that cast shadows on your radiant cityscape, blocking your skin's true potential from shining through. That's where our trusty exfoliant steps in!

An exfoliant acts like the ultimate city planner, gently but efficiently whisking away those outdated cells to reveal a revitalized, radiant metropolis underneath.

But how exactly does it pull off this feat?

Two main ways: physical and chemical.

Physical Exfoliants

The OG skin scrubbers, these are like tiny construction workers, manually sloughing off the dead skin cells.

They use small, abrasive particles. Think sugar, oatmeal, or tiny jojoba beads.

The job of these micro-workers is to physically scrub away the surface dullness. If you're into instant gratification and tangible textures, these bad boys might be up your alley.

Chemical Exfoliants

Their chemical counterparts, on the other hand, do a more covert operation.

They're like skilled negotiators convincing the old cells to peacefully leave, without the need for force.

Ingredients like salicylic acid (a star in many an 'acne toner for face'), AHAs and BHAs, gently loosen the bonds holding dead skin cells to the surface of your skin. This allows them to be swept away naturally.

And the result? Smoother, brighter skin that’s more receptive to the rest of your skincare regimen.

Now that's a skincare win!

The Big Reveal: Correct Sequence Matters

Drumroll, please…

The correct sequence is… Exfoliate first, then tone! 


Exfoliating first gets rid of dead skin and lets your toner reach deep into your pores for a more effective cleanse.

When you exfoliate, you're sloughing off dead skin cells, clearing the stage. Or in this case, your pores.

By doing this first, you're ensuring your subsequent products—such as your acne toner or salicylic acid toner—can easily penetrate deep into your skin and work their magic.

It's like how a seasoned actor can command the stage better when the distractions are cleared away.

In the same way, your toner can do its job better when the dead skin cells are out of the picture.

More Than Cleansing

Now, toning after exfoliating does more than just cleanse.

Remember, toner also rebalances your skin's pH levels.

When you exfoliate, especially if you're using something like a salicylic acid toner for your face, your skin's pH balance might tip slightly towards the acidic side.

Your toner steps in like a polished conductor, balancing out the orchestra's harmonies. In other words, your skin's pH level.

Additionally, toning after exfoliating preps your skin to absorb all the nourishing ingredients from the rest of your skincare routine. It's like the stagehand that ensures the spotlight is correctly focused on the star, so they can shine their brightest.

Putting It All in Order

So there you have it!

The correct skincare sequence isn't just a haphazard sequence of steps. It's a well choreographed dance, each step crucial in setting the stage for the next.

No more pondering, no more confusion - you've now got the keys to the skincare kingdom!

Stepping Up Your Game: The Korean Multi-Step Routine

When we think of the pinnacle of skincare, many of us think K-beauty. Which is probably why you’re here!

If you've been here longer than 5 minutes, you've probably been amazed at the dedication of our Korean counterparts to their skin. It's not just a routine, it's a lifestyle.

So let's dive into the world of multi-step routines and find out how toning fits into the K-beauty skincare symphony!

At its most basic level, we're looking at a three-step routine:

1. Cleanse

2. Tone

3. Moisturize 

But for those who won’t settle for less than the perfect ‘glass skin,’ we can kick it up a notch (or five!).

There’s Skin Care, and There’s Glass Skin Care!

Grab your scuba gear, glow-getters, because we’re about to dive DEEP!

Let's break down what it really takes to get that elusive ‘glass skin’ look that our Korean friends are famous for:

  1. First Cleanse

Kick off your routine with an oil-based cleanser. Why? Like attracts like. The oils in the cleanser bind with the oils and makeup on your skin, lifting away the grime of the day without stripping your skin.

  1. Second Cleanse

Follow up with a water-based cleanser to remove any remaining residue. Now your skin is squeaky clean and ready to soak up the goodness of the next steps.

  1. Exfoliate

Enter the exfoliant! This is where we say goodbye to the dead skin cells that could block the upcoming products from being fully absorbed. Remember our cityscape analogy? Time to call in the city planners!

  1. Toner 

Now that your skin is clean and fresh, it's time for our star, the toner, to step into the spotlight. Using a toner helps balance your skin's pH levels. As we’ve seen, it also primes it to absorb the next products better. If in doubt, something labeled 'Korean toner for face' is a must-have!

  1. Essence

Think of essence as a lightweight, hydrating cocktail for your skin. It’s packed with potent ingredients that deliver a surge of moisture and nutrients.

  1. Treatment

This is where you bring out the big guns. Whether it's 'acne toner with salicylic acid', 'tea tree toner', 'cica toner' or your favorite serum, this is your targeted treatment step.

  1. Mask

    Time to relax with a face mask that gives your skin some extra TLC.
  2. Eye Cream

    Don’t forget the sensitive skin around your eyes! An eye cream can help keep this area hydrated and bright.
  3. Moisturize

 Finally, seal in all the goodness with a moisturizer to hydrate and protect your skin.

  1. Sunscreen (AM only)

Never skip this step in the morning. It protects your skin from damaging UV rays, one of the main culprits of premature aging.

This might seem like a lot, but remember, skincare is self-care! Each step is a moment to focus on you.

But don't worry, it doesn't mean you have to do every step, every day. Feel free to adjust based on your skin's needs and how much time you have. Your skin, your rules!

Bringing It All Together

Above all, don't let all this information scare you.

Some days, you might only have time for a quick cleanse-tone-moisturize routine. On other days, you might indulge in the full nine yards—masks, serums, eye creams and all. That's perfectly okay too.

Remember, the skincare journey is not a sprint, but a marathon. It's not just about immediate results, but long-term skin health.

It's about learning to listen to your skin, understanding its needs, and finding joy in the daily ritual of Korean skincare!

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